As of this month Air France is resuming 3x weekly flights between Paris and Tehran. This comes after sanctions were lifted between Iran and the US/Europe, given that international inspectors have confirmed that Iran has allegedly dismantled their nuclear program.
This new route is leading to some interesting controversy among Air France flight attendants, some of whom are unwilling to work the route. What’s the cause of the controversy?
Female Air France flight attendants will be required to wear headscarves as soon as they land in Tehran, which the union argues violates their personal liberties. Therefore they’re requesting that the flights be voluntary to work, meaning that flight attendants can’t receive any penalties if they don’t want to work this route.
To be clear, Air France is simply requiring flight attendants to follow the Iranian laws which have been in place for decades, requiring all women to cover up. The Telegraph does a good job outlining the two sides to this story.
Here’s what the union argues:
Flore Arrighi, head of the UNAC flight crews’ union, said: “It is not our role to pass judgement on the wearing of headscarves or veils in Iran. What we are denouncing is that it is being made compulsory. Stewardesses must be given the right to refuse these flights.”
She added that female staff were entitled to exercise “individual freedoms”.
The deputy head of the SNPNC flight crews’ union, Christophe Pillet, said: “Female staff do not wish to have dress regulations imposed on them, especially the obligation to wear an Air France scarf that completely covers their hair as soon as they leave the plane.”
Mr Pillet said flight crews were prepared to wear headscarves in Iran when out of uniform, but objected to being ordered to wear them as part of their uniform.
Meanwhile here’s what the airline argues:
The financially ailing French airline, which sees the resumption of Tehran flights as an “excellent” business development, pointed out that other airline staff were obliged to comply with Iranian rules. “Tolerance and respect for the customs of the countries we serve are part of the values of our company,” a spokesman said.
Air France argued that French law allows “the restriction of individual liberties” if “justified by the nature of the task to be accomplished.”
This is a real toughie, and I see merit to both sides. This kind of stuff is always a slippery slope, because sometimes it can be tough to find a balance between following local customs while also respecting the rights people are afforded in an airline’s home country.
What I do find interesting here is that the union acknowledges that Air France is simply asking them to follow local law, and that they’re fine with flight attendants being required to wear headscarves when out of uniform in Iran. What they take issue with is having to wear headscarves as part of their uniform. I’m not sure I totally get the distinction there, personally, since even their time out of uniform in Iran is still technically time where they’re “on the clock.”
That being said, I do get the argument in general. Flight attendants disagree with being marginalized and being forced to wear a headscarf, which I think is a valid point to make. But how do you reconcile that with a for profit airline which flies to markets with different cultural norms?
I guess to take the argument a bit further, should gay flight attendants be allowed to opt out of flights to countries where they lack basic rights?
I don’t know, it’s a toughie…
I’m curious to see how this battle between Air France management and the flight attendant union plays out. Flight attendants want to be able to opt out of these flights since they feel like their personal liberties are being violated. At the same time, Air France is arguing that conforming to other countries’ laws is part of the job. They both have valid points, in my opinion.
Who do you think is right in this headscarf disagreement — Air France or the flight attendant union?
(Tip of the hat to Mike)